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Thad Brown: This Cook, these Bills could be unstoppable

todayDecember 18, 2023 2

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Thurman Thomas. LeSean McCoy. Two of the best names ever to tote the rock in a Bills uniform.

Both names were in the air in the Bills press box watching James Cook against the Cowboys. And frankly, it doesn’t feel like enough praise for the game Cook played on a warm and somewhat rainy December evening in Orchard Park.

The numbers are mind boggling. Cook had 100 yards rushing by halftime. He had 146 combined yards after two quarters, just 13 off his career high before this game. His 221 combined yards are the most for any Bills player since 2010. They are the third most since Thomas went for 100 rushing and 100 passing in the 1991(!) season opener. And he barely played the fourth quarter.

There’s credit to go around, but Cook is at the top of the list. He ran with a purpose and a confidence that hasn’t been seen much this season. Not for a whole game, at least. He hit holes with speed. The elusiveness was up a notch.

When Cook was drafted, the book on him was a really good receiver who happened to play running back. There was a receiving TD in this game, but Cook’s damage was almost otherwise entirely on the ground. This Cook is something entirely different. And something that could prove much more dangerous for the Bills.

Joe Brady continued to do Joe Brady things. One of his top strengths so far is a willingness to believe his eyes. When he sees a weakness, he exploits it. Sean McDermott pointed out after the game that a play caller might see all those runs hit and think he’s got to mix in a play-action throw because the defense would be susceptible. Brady wouldn’t fall into that trap. It wasn’t broke, so he didn’t fix it. It’s an underrated skill among NFL coaches where the job requires an arrogance that makes the simple and obvious seem beneath them.

The coup de grace for the night was the first drive of the second half. Thirteen runs and then one pass that became the only Cook hiccup of the night. More than eight minutes off the clock. The Bills only took three points, but more important, that drive took the Cowboys’ will.

“They were worn out,” Dawson Knox said. “They didn’t want to play by the end of it.”

It had to be the best night ever for the Bills offensive line. There were big smiles in their corner of the locker room following the win. “It’s always a great time when you’re able to run the ball like that,” former Cowboy Connor McGovern said.

It’s been a much improved year for the Bills offensive line, but they’ve never been noted as a power group. Just knowing this type of game is in their bag was an eye opener. Dion Dawkins was the headliner with his block straight out of The Blind Side that took Dallas linebacker Damone Clark on a 20 yard ride.

Dawkins wouldn’t revel in the play during his media session afterward. He spread the credit all around the offensive line, making the point that he doesn’t get a chance to imitate a steamroller without everyone else up front doing their job. Same goes for the overall run game success.

“To run the football, everybody has to be on the right accord,” Dawkins said. “Everybody was on the right cue. Everybody was on the right channel. Everybody was on the right mission.”

When Dawkins says ‘everybody’, he might as well have been talking about the Bills defense, too. McDermott authored a masterpiece of a game plan despite playing with half a deck. Micah Hyde joined the crew of injured former Pro Bowlers and Buffalo held a team under 200 yards of offense for only the second time all year. The other time was at home against the Jets.

So, the Bills made Dak Prescott look like Zach Wilson.

Terrel Bernard said the Bills have been finding their identity on defense the last few weeks. He says that identity is to be physical and fast. That stood out over and over against the Cowboys. The Bills attacked right from the start and never stopped. Prescott and the running backs couldn’t breathe. CeeDee Lamb and the rest of the receivers were immediately smothered on the rare occasion they were able get on the other end of a Prescott throw. It would have been an extraordinary performance for any defense, let alone a defense that’s been middling at best since the rash of injuries back in October.

The blowout of Dallas was unexpected, but especially the way it happened. It begs the question of whether it is repeatable. The Bills haven’t been a great defense while shorthanded. They’ve never been a great run team with Allen at quarterback. Teams don’t normally flip a switch for a lasting change like that in week 15.

There’s no question a miserable piece of coaching by the Cowboys was a factor in the margin of victory. Pros at this level usually are able to make an adjustment when the opponent is winning the same way over and over. Either Mike McCarthy failed on the X’s and O’s or failed to keep his team focused and motivated coming off an emotional win over the Eagles.

Where the Bills want to go, better coaching tests await. They won’t need 200-plus yards out of Cook in all of those games, but the possibilities are tantalizing if they can continue to make him a consistent threat. The conversation around this team for the last couple years has often included a search for something dependable other than Allen to Stefon Diggs.

This version of Cook can very much be that long awaited off speed pitch. This is a player and a run game that dictated offense. This was a secondary option that made a 10-3 team want to quit. Pair that with one of the game’s best quarterbacks, a player that has already proven he can take over any game against any opponent, and I don’t know how anyone can much match up. It’s a vision that should dance in the heads of BillsMafia all week and should be way better than sugar plums.

The Bills are going to win their next two games against the Chargers and Patriots (if they don’t, they don’t belong in a playoff conversation). They are going to have a chance to beat Miami again and win another division title unless the Dolphins sweep their next two games against the Cowboys and Ravens (unlikely).

This season that included a torches and pitchforks moment with the head coach might still result in a postseason run starting in Orchard Park. Even better, the Bills might come out of this season with the best second option on offense since Cole Beasley was the underneath ying to Diggs’ yang. They might also have a defense that finally knows how to be intimidating even without a handful of their most intimidating individuals.

It’s been thought that a late bye week is an advantage because those teams are fresher for the games that really matter. The Bills have certainly made that thought seem accurate. They’re playing great football–their best of the year–and have two impressive wins since returning from their week off. They are officially the team no one else wants to see in the playoffs.

The Bills are also brimming with well deserved confidence. I asked Christian Benford what a thrashing of a team like the Cowboys might prove to his team. Benford took a long moment to consider the question. Despite the soft spoken nature of the Bills second year corner, his answer was a loud statement.

“At the end of the day, I believe that we them dawgs. We can win it all. I truly believe that.”

Of all those positive developments, Cook is by far the most promising. If he can become the next Thurman Thomas, the next LeSean McCoy or something even close, the Bills might be right back to becoming the Super Bowl favorite Western New York thought they would be back in August.

​ Thurman Thomas. LeSean McCoy. Two of the best names ever to tote the rock in a Bills uniform.

Both names were in the air in the Bills press box watching James Cook against the Cowboys. And frankly, it doesn’t feel like enough praise for the game Cook played on a warm and somewhat rainy December evening in Orchard Park.

The numbers are mind boggling. Cook had 100 yards rushing by halftime. He had 146 combined yards after two quarters, just 13 off his career high before this game. His 221 combined yards are the most for any Bills player since 2010. They are the third most since Thomas went for 100 rushing and 100 passing in the 1991(!) season opener. And he barely played the fourth quarter.

There’s credit to go around, but Cook is at the top of the list. He ran with a purpose and a confidence that hasn’t been seen much this season. Not for a whole game, at least. He hit holes with speed. The elusiveness was up a notch.

When Cook was drafted, the book on him was a really good receiver who happened to play running back. There was a receiving TD in this game, but Cook’s damage was almost otherwise entirely on the ground. This Cook is something entirely different. And something that could prove much more dangerous for the Bills.

Joe Brady continued to do Joe Brady things. One of his top strengths so far is a willingness to believe his eyes. When he sees a weakness, he exploits it. Sean McDermott pointed out after the game that a play caller might see all those runs hit and think he’s got to mix in a play-action throw because the defense would be susceptible. Brady wouldn’t fall into that trap. It wasn’t broke, so he didn’t fix it. It’s an underrated skill among NFL coaches where the job requires an arrogance that makes the simple and obvious seem beneath them.

The coup de grace for the night was the first drive of the second half. Thirteen runs and then one pass that became the only Cook hiccup of the night. More than eight minutes off the clock. The Bills only took three points, but more important, that drive took the Cowboys’ will.

“They were worn out,” Dawson Knox said. “They didn’t want to play by the end of it.”

It had to be the best night ever for the Bills offensive line. There were big smiles in their corner of the locker room following the win. “It’s always a great time when you’re able to run the ball like that,” former Cowboy Connor McGovern said.

It’s been a much improved year for the Bills offensive line, but they’ve never been noted as a power group. Just knowing this type of game is in their bag was an eye opener. Dion Dawkins was the headliner with his block straight out of The Blind Side that took Dallas linebacker Damone Clark on a 20 yard ride.

Dawkins wouldn’t revel in the play during his media session afterward. He spread the credit all around the offensive line, making the point that he doesn’t get a chance to imitate a steamroller without everyone else up front doing their job. Same goes for the overall run game success.

“To run the football, everybody has to be on the right accord,” Dawkins said. “Everybody was on the right cue. Everybody was on the right channel. Everybody was on the right mission.”

When Dawkins says ‘everybody’, he might as well have been talking about the Bills defense, too. McDermott authored a masterpiece of a game plan despite playing with half a deck. Micah Hyde joined the crew of injured former Pro Bowlers and Buffalo held a team under 200 yards of offense for only the second time all year. The other time was at home against the Jets.

So, the Bills made Dak Prescott look like Zach Wilson.

Terrel Bernard said the Bills have been finding their identity on defense the last few weeks. He says that identity is to be physical and fast. That stood out over and over against the Cowboys. The Bills attacked right from the start and never stopped. Prescott and the running backs couldn’t breathe. CeeDee Lamb and the rest of the receivers were immediately smothered on the rare occasion they were able get on the other end of a Prescott throw. It would have been an extraordinary performance for any defense, let alone a defense that’s been middling at best since the rash of injuries back in October.

The blowout of Dallas was unexpected, but especially the way it happened. It begs the question of whether it is repeatable. The Bills haven’t been a great defense while shorthanded. They’ve never been a great run team with Allen at quarterback. Teams don’t normally flip a switch for a lasting change like that in week 15.

There’s no question a miserable piece of coaching by the Cowboys was a factor in the margin of victory. Pros at this level usually are able to make an adjustment when the opponent is winning the same way over and over. Either Mike McCarthy failed on the X’s and O’s or failed to keep his team focused and motivated coming off an emotional win over the Eagles.

Where the Bills want to go, better coaching tests await. They won’t need 200-plus yards out of Cook in all of those games, but the possibilities are tantalizing if they can continue to make him a consistent threat. The conversation around this team for the last couple years has often included a search for something dependable other than Allen to Stefon Diggs.

This version of Cook can very much be that long awaited off speed pitch. This is a player and a run game that dictated offense. This was a secondary option that made a 10-3 team want to quit. Pair that with one of the game’s best quarterbacks, a player that has already proven he can take over any game against any opponent, and I don’t know how anyone can much match up. It’s a vision that should dance in the heads of BillsMafia all week and should be way better than sugar plums.

The Bills are going to win their next two games against the Chargers and Patriots (if they don’t, they don’t belong in a playoff conversation). They are going to have a chance to beat Miami again and win another division title unless the Dolphins sweep their next two games against the Cowboys and Ravens (unlikely).

This season that included a torches and pitchforks moment with the head coach might still result in a postseason run starting in Orchard Park. Even better, the Bills might come out of this season with the best second option on offense since Cole Beasley was the underneath ying to Diggs’ yang. They might also have a defense that finally knows how to be intimidating even without a handful of their most intimidating individuals.

It’s been thought that a late bye week is an advantage because those teams are fresher for the games that really matter. The Bills have certainly made that thought seem accurate. They’re playing great football–their best of the year–and have two impressive wins since returning from their week off. They are officially the team no one else wants to see in the playoffs.

The Bills are also brimming with well deserved confidence. I asked Christian Benford what a thrashing of a team like the Cowboys might prove to his team. Benford took a long moment to consider the question. Despite the soft spoken nature of the Bills second year corner, his answer was a loud statement.

“At the end of the day, I believe that we them dawgs. We can win it all. I truly believe that.”

Of all those positive developments, Cook is by far the most promising. If he can become the next Thurman Thomas, the next LeSean McCoy or something even close, the Bills might be right back to becoming the Super Bowl favorite Western New York thought they would be back in August. Read More Buffalo BillsRochesterFirst  

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